Once again, the New Atheists have approached the black monolith of a philosophical argument, scratched their heads in mystification, and started jumping around in irritation. But unlike the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, they have come away from the experience completely unenlightened, the only benefit being that they got a little exercise.
This happens repeatedly: Some atheist scientist who's been fussing around with his Bunsen burner and test tube walks out of the laboratory and tries his hand at philosophy, thinking that the skills he acquired taking his biology degree somehow transfer over into the kind of conceptual analysis required in philosophy. Lawrence Krauss and Jerry Coyne are constantly embarrassing themselves by doing this.
Here is Lewis' statement, taken out of the context, of course, of the chapter in his book Miracles in which it appears, nevertheless sufficient:
Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It's like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can't trust my own thinking, of course I can't trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.Myers' response? "Then how could he write down such illogical inanity as this?" So we expect to hear some logically coherent response to it from the cocky Myers. Addressing the first three sentences, he says:
See, there’s his problem. Brains didn’t just happen. They aren’t merely some peculiar arrangement of atoms. They have a long contingent history in which they were shaped by selection to have particular properties that allowed bearers of slightly more functional nervous systems to outlive, outbreed bearers of cruder brains. An absence of a designer does not imply that the only other alternative is random chaos.Myers apparently considers this a cogent response. Now first of all, how does it refute what Lewis says―that the brain is a mere arrangement of atoms―to say that the arrangement of atoms has a history? Of course arrangements of atoms have a history. Lewis doesn't deny it, in fact his whole point in this section of his book is that the materialist position is that any brain state is simply the effect of prior physical causes. Exactly why Myers thinks this is somehow in conflict with what Lewis is saying is a mystery. And why does he think the statement that brains are merely peculiar arrangements of atoms is inconsistent with those atoms having a history?
This is typical of New Atheist arguments: They just repeat some Just So story about how something came about and think that constitutes an explanation. In this case, it wouldn't matter if it did: It still doesn't address Lewis' point.
So, after jumping around in irritation at the first part and beating his hands on the ground, he tries to take on the second part:
First, you can’t trust your thinking to be true. You have to test and verify all the time. You can believe in thought without believing in gods: we all build empirical models of how the world works and test them constantly. From an early age, we noticed that when we dropped things they fell to the ground; when we learned to walk we stumbled and learned that we can fall to the ground, and it hurts; we learned that when we fell off the table it hurt a lot more than when we fell while standing on the ground. And now, when I look out my second floor window, I know jumping out of it would probably do me significant damage, despite never having actually tried it.
Most of what we believe isn’t derived from the pure and perfect reasoning power of our flawless brains—it’s learned by trial and error by brains that are often afflicted with stubbornly bad ideas.I'm sorry, but this response is so utterly bone-headed it's hard not to just dismiss it and go on the next bone-headed New Atheist pronouncement and the next one, ad infinitum. He literally doesn't understand what Lewis is saying.
Myers apparently thinks Lewis is trying to prove the existence of God with this argument, which, of course, he clearly is not. He's trying to show that the whole concept of truth―whether it's the truth of the position that God exists or the truth of the position that "you can't trust your thinking to be true"―is impossible on the materialist account of reality.
If your brain is merely an arrangement of atoms, then what can "truth" possibly mean? On what basis do we call one arrangement of atoms "true" and another "false"? The only basis on which we could privilege one over the other is if there is something above and beyond arrangements of atoms. But materialists don't believe in anything beyond arrangements of atoms―at least not if they're consistent materialists (there is another question).
The only atheists consistent on this point are the Platonist ones, like Bertrand Russell, who basically have to posit metaphysical entities. If there is such a thing as "truth," then it is metaphysical. But materialism denies the metaphysical. Therefore nothing, not even materialism can be "true."
That's why it's been called the "Argument from Self-Destruction": It's a description of how materialism defeats itself. It has nothing to do with proving God. You have to actually understand what somebody is saying in order to even argue against them. And Myer's doesn't even get that far.
I suggest he stick with arguing against thinkers more on his philosophical level, like Ken Ham. With Lewis, he's completely out of his water.